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Sorry PG&E, why I am voting against Prop 16

The ads have been as slick as the oil now floating off the coast of New Orleans. TV ads show a nice sounding woman standing in a park. A postcard arrives in the mail with pictures of solar panels and sunflowers. They are all financed by Pacific, Gas, and Electric Company, asserting that my right to vote is being defended. What they are proposing is an amendment to the California State Constitution to require 2/3 voter approval before any local government can get into the electricity business. PG&E argues that my local city council or county board of supervisors can decide to start up publicly owned utilities without holding an election, which is true. Unfortunately, the logic that the process is undemocratic is faulty.

If my city, Berkeley, does decide to buy electricity through Community Choice Aggregation, and this city has been considering that plan for awhile, there would be public hearings and plenty of opportunities for the people to make their views heard in the hearing process. If the council does make a decision the public doesn’t like, there are several options for voters to express their displeasure. One way is to vote out the council members that made the decision and replace them with new members who would decide differently. The other, more direct option is to put the issue on the ballot through the initiative or referendum process.

Contentious issues are always being placed on our local ballot. These include amending the master plan allow population growth downtown and providing dedicated lanes for Bus Rapid Transit. It has been easy for opponents to get the required number of signatures to place measures on the ballot. Interestingly, many of these measures have failed to receive a voter majority.

It is not enough that Prop 16 requires a vote. It demands a 2/3 majority to pass. Yet, passing this amendment to the constitution requires only a simple majority. It was another simple majority that amended the constitution to take away the right of same-sex couples to get married. Is that democratic?

The nice sounding woman in the park is right about one thing. This is not about whether community choice aggregation is a good or bad idea. In fact, it may be a very bad idea. But that doesn’t mean we have to load up our ballots, which are already quite long, or tie the hands of our elected representatives. That is why we are called a republic. We chose people to make such decisions for us and fire them if they don’t act in our interest. The initiative is an important tool for providing more checks and balances, but that tool should not be abused. That is why I am voting no on Prop 16.

The San Francisco Chronicle opposes Prop 16. This is their editorial. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/04/18/IN2N1D0432.DTL

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May 4, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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